Some of us who have been labelled with disabled minds find normality tedious and desperate, and our own experiences belittled and devalued. To use a technological analogy, madness is seen as malfunctioning in the programming and not an appropriate reaction to the system that it finds itself in. The divergent mind is not a spam folder. Society disables me by putting viruses of self-hate and discrimination into that programming and then tries to sell me sanity at inflated prices, only to make my system crash again and again.

To that end, I want to disrupt systems that produce ‘copy and paste’ identities/thoughts/perceptions/life/death, as a Trojan horse dressed as my little pony on acid with a little sadness in their hearts. My anti-virus programme is my art and creativity, it is putting sanity over my lap and smacking its naughty bum bum.

Some normal people lack insight and need rehabilitation. It is my duty to help them out by pointing out that sanity is full of ridiculous acceptable behaviour and strange double standards that have arisen out of the Covid 19 pandemic. That being loud and aggressive when a shop worker asks you to put a mask on is a behaviour that needs no police officer or doctor to intervene, but someone who is deeply depressed by the state of the world has to be pathologized; it seems back to front to me. The world is sanitised not sane. Why is acceptance and celebration of the mad self seen as a lack of insight, when it has been forged by thought, pain and lots of questioning? There is a side to madness that doesn’t get shown, that is intelligent, funny, and pointing at the emperor’s new clothes. A lot of that has been done through my art.

search engine screen text saying DEPRESSED SEARCH ENGINE, there isn't point looking for what you want, don't touch me
Dolly Sen, Depressed Search Engine (screengrab), courtesy of the artist

Previously, I created a part of the website experiencing psychosis, which hears voices, thinks it is being spied upon, and that it is Jesus.  It asks: what if the internet experienced madness, what would it look like, would you ever return to it, would you bookmark it, would you share it, report it, what does it feel to vicariously experience psychosis? Virtual reality may not exist, but what if it didn’t exist twice removed. What if human beings didn’t exist twice removed?

I hope my art infects normal systems with subversion and cheekiness. Reality may never be an inclusive design, but virtual reality can be. In fact, artificial intelligence can never be sentient, if it cannot go mad.

So how to subvert technology that wants to fix the mad mind, or show that interventions for mental health conditions do more harm than good? Maybe medicate and forcibly restrain a robot? Develop a depressed search engine who tells the person there isn’t any point in looking for what they want? Give Youtube hallucinations? A dating website for people’s voices? Make a Twitter account paranoid that people are following it?

One of the other technologies on offer around mental health is a proliferation of apps, measuring mood, anxiety, negative thoughts, and aspiring to teach people how to calm themselves, breathe, and how to get a better night’s sleep. All well and good, but the problem is making it the individual’s problem or responsibility. No matter if your distress is caused by social factors, such as poverty, oppression, racism, welfare cuts, or disability-as-burden rhetoric. It is not life improvement, it is subservience-improvement. Maybe it is time to develop an app to measure the unreasonableness of society’s expectation of you. Or a motivating app, which flashes messages like ‘You don’t have to fit into their bullshit’ and give you points for the loyalty card that is your own authenticity.

Or maybe we just need a ‘Track and Trace’ app that tries to find kindness and decency. I don’t think we need to be looking for anything else.

This is a revised version of a piece that originally appeared as a blog post on Disability Arts Online

Dolly Sen standing with arms crossed leaning on a glass table

Dolly Sen has a brain of ill-repute. Because of this, she is a writer, artist, performer and filmmaker. She is working class, Queer, interested in disability and the madness given to us by the world.  Since 2004 she has exhibited and performed internationally. Her films have also been shown worldwide.